Intensify and downplay were the two words communication theorist Hugh Rank chose to frame his persuasion schema in his paper circa 1976. His work, as even a cursory search will show you, was aimed at analyzing some pretty serious political communications.
Rank argued that persuasive communications techniques fall into one of two categories — intensify or downplay. A persuasive argument would intensify, or accentuate, positive characteristics while downplaying the less positive. By the same token, a persuasive argument might intensify negative characteristics, for example about the competition, or by downplaying the competition’s positives.
Rank then divided both intensify and downplay into three subparts. Intensify consists of repetition, association and composition, while downplay consists omission, diversion and confusion.
- Repetition is straightforward. Repetition is straightforward. Repetition is straightforward.
- Association, only slightly more complex, is identifying with something with which an audience has a (positive) preconceived notion. Obama’s presentation style for example, has often been compared with that of Reagan — the great communicator.
- COMPOSITION deals with the arrangement of messages in patterns of writing, design, imaging or the combination thereof. Rank uses examples like U$A and Nixxon — the later a derogatory reference to former President. In modern times, LOL might be a more fitting example, IMHO.
- Omission too is straight-forward, but rather than repeat it, I’d rather leave that part out.
- Diversion is also simple; it’s the concept of introducing another concept, as in answering the question you wish you were asked. Sometimes crisis communications experts call this a “bridge.”
- Confusion is providing answers so convoluted, no one understands what you are saying. In other words, it’s the quotes that make no sense that have the most meaning.
Rank’s theory stands the test of time. If you want to read Rank’s full text, you’ll have to visit a library or some dark corner of the academic web to find a copy; the citation is at the end.
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Rank, H. (1976). Teaching about public persuasion. In D. Dietrich (Ed.), Teaching and Doublespeak. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
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